When you open the door to Tellicherry, you’re hit by a wave of spices, emanating from a postage stamp sized kitchen. As you wind around its edge, squeezing between packed chairs and tables, the oppressive heat of the room is the second thing you notice. I’m all for authenticity, but making me feel like I’m on a packed train travelling through Southern India might be taking things a bit far.
While I’m familiar with Ajoy Joshi’s other Indian stalwart, Nilgiri’s, now located in Cremorne, this is my first visit to Tellicherry. “New year, new menu,” our waiter enthuses, as he distributes the succinct list. Despite booking through their website, I was surprised to discover in situ that the restaurant is unlicensed. So it was back out the door to buy our own beer and wine, though the large silver water jug was welcome, and we’re soon asking for a refill to help us cope with the heat.
Mangalore Masala Dosa ($18) are a good place to begin. These little pancakes are stuffed full of spiced potato, and eaten like panipuri, where you punch a hole into them and pour in the accompanying garlic chutney and raita.
Onion and Green Pea Samosas ($15) are also quite delicious, dripping with lashings of tamarind and mint.
I’d skip the bland Cauliflower Vaurval ($14) in favour of more simple pappadums. The cauliflower florets are coated in mild Chettinad spices and drizzled with a yoghurt-based sauce rather than the tomato chutney suggested on the menu.
However the unusual apricot raita made a side of Pappadums & Dips ($9) more intriguing. The gently floral almost almond-like sauce was a nice counterpoint to the intensity of the hot mango pickle.
You can eat nearly all of the aforementioned dishes in the Non-Vegetarian Tasting Menu ($52/person), which is a great way to get a good overview of what Tellicherry is about. The tasting menu here lacks the pacing of the one at Nilgiri’s, with all the dishes basically served in two courses – entrée and main. The last of our entrees, Kozhi Milagu ($16), is a nicely simple oven-baked chicken thigh curry that tastes of cassia bark, cardamom, black pepper and curry leaves.
I prefer it to the chicken curry main – Kozhi Khurma ($26) – that has a thicker sauce, flavoured with star anise. Naadan Goat ($29) has a rich intensity, and tender hunks of goat with some bones for more flavour.
The Kerala-style gravy has fennel, black pepper and fresh curry leaves, and eats well on Plain Naan ($4/each).
My surprising favourite however was a vegetarian main – Potatoes and Green Beans Thoran ($20). It's another Keralan dish employing cumin and ginger, making for a lively and fresh take on curry.
My overall experience makes me more inclined to recommend this spot to vegetarians, and those who prefer vegetable curries, with the only proviso being that this tiny restaurant needs more extraction of cooking odours, and more air conditioning, to be viable during the long Australian summer.
Shop 4, 260 Military Road, Neutral Bay
Ph: (02) 9953 7313